Lawmakers push Air Force to buy rescue helicopters

A group of 74 lawmakers is pushing the Pentagon to purchase more than 100 combat search-and-rescue helicopters that are in jeopardy due to budget cuts.

The lawmakers wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Thursday urging him to provide funding for the 112 new helicopters the Air Force would purchase in its Combat Rescue Helicopter program to replace the aging HH-60G Pave Hawk fleet. 

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The Air Force is reportedly considering abandoning plans to fund the new helicopters, a contract that’s expected to be awarded to Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, under its 2015 budget proposal that includes sequester-level cuts.

“We believe this mission is too important to allow arbitrary budget pressures to thwart providing these lifesaving aircraft, and the Air Force should move forward with its acquisition strategy to recapitalize the CRH fleet in an expeditious manner,” the lawmakers wrote in the bipartisan letter headed by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Ken Calvert (R-Calif.).

The helicopter program is one of many that lawmakers have expressed concerns about getting cut, as the Pentagon grapples with budget pressures under sequester.

The budget deal announced this week would provide the Pentagon with $32 billion of sequester relief over the next two years, but that’s still well below the Pentagon’s pre-sequester funding levels.

The services are each developing multiple budgets for 2015 to deal with the possibility that the sequestration cuts do not go away.